Saturday, May 05, 2012

Grace-filled Transitions

So Long, Farewell: Grace-filled Transitions Ashland Times Gazette, 1939 Adjutant and Mrs. Frederick Elliot yesterday received orders to “farewell” from the Ashland Citadel tomorrow. The Elliots have been ordered to take charge of the Toledo Citadel Corps not later than next Thursday. Times have changed since Fred and Elizabeth, our predecessors, packed up their children and belongings and headed off to Toledo, Ohio. Thankfully, we have more than one week to pack and clean in today’s Army, but leave we must. While the timing may have changed, the pain associated with farewells remains a constant, echoing the words of Frederick: “We deeply regret the fact that we have to leave Ashland” (Times Gazette XXXVIII, 120, 1939). Their public angst surprised me, for the Salvation Army culture of their day encouraged the officers to maintain an emotional detachment from their soldiers and appointment. An officer was to be “interchangeable,” ready for reassignment as needed, as often as once a year. Yet in the twenty-first century, the pastor who strives to maintain a dignified distance between herself and her flock has been nudged aside by the leader described by Commissioner Israel Gaither: vulnerable, transparent, and remaining closely connected to those in their charge (Caring, Dec. 2005, 8). As small groups, relational evangelism, and incarnational ministry become a larger component of Army work, how does that change the way we face officer transitions, that dreaded (or welcomed) phone call that says, “you’re being farewelled”? Certainly, pulling up stakes from an appointment is more complicated than it was for Fred and Elizabeth. The business component of officership is much more complex than it was in the past, and the paradigm of ministry has shifted since the days when officers were encouraged to hold themselves aloft from their soldiers. When relationships with soldiers, neighbors, board members and employees have been deeply nurtured, we cannot announce that we are being transferred, and leave no forwarding address. We’ve loved our people, invested in their lives, and have become richly connected. Paul described the bond like this: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart . . . all of you share in God’s grace with me” (Phil. 1:7, TNIV). And in another passage, he wrote: “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well . . . But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you (I Thess. 2). Adding to the relational difficulty is the lack of choice in the transition. In the early decades of the twentieth century, most people had little choice over where they lived, what they did for a living, or the kind of cereal they ate. Elizabeth and Frederick did not expect to have many choices on any given day. In contemporary culture, choice is king in hundreds of ways each day, yet the appointment process continues to be driven by the decisions of Army leaders who may not know the implications of a move to a particular family or location. The departing officer(s) may not have been consulted about the move, and the newly appointed officers may not sense it is time to them to leave their place of service. Most likely, nobody asked the congregation, staff or board if this was a good time for a change, and so all face a transition that they had no control over. A third consideration is that many in our congregations struggle with separation due to their own background and family systems that provided little stabilty. While some of those attracted to the Army come because of the opportunities for ministry, many, if not most new participants, come because they need what the Army has to offer, which is unconditional acceptance. Often, those who feel left out in other relationships – yes, and even other churches - find a home at The Sal. And now that home is being torn apart. Mommy and Daddy are abandoning them – one more time. While we recognize that a parent/child relationship is not a healthy one, and want to help the “child” to mature, the dynamics are still at work, and the results of an abrupt move without adequate preparation and support through the transition can be devastating for the more fragile among our people. What can help in the transition? Consultation remains a desired component of the process for most officers, a subject that certainly needs further exploration. But when the decision is made, are there systemic ways that the change in officers can be managed so as to make the transition smoother for all involved? The wisdom of our elders is often found in the Orders and Regulations for Officers, and there is a section on predecessor and successor. Early editions of the O & R addressed this subject more in depth, but by 1997, the section on transitions simply starts with this statement: “The relationship between predecessor and successor should be one of mutual respect and understanding and, for the sake of the Kingdom and those served by the appointment, any temptation to engage in criticism should be strongly resisted.” However, there are some unwritten “rules” that tend to circulate from time to time. A common one is that there is to be no contact allowed between the former officer and the soldiers for one year following departure. However, when I went to search for that regulation, I couldn’t find it. The closest I came was from the O & R of 1960 (Chapter III, Sec. 3, 442): An officer, after farewelling, should not encourage unauthorized visitors from his former command. To do so would not only weaken the hands of his successor by the absence of such comrades, but would also tend to unsettle the runaways themselves. Fortunately, by 1997 (when this was first written)the “runaways” label is gone, and all that remains on the subject is this: “After leaving an appointment, an officer should refrain from any further involvement that might prejudice his or her successor’s work.” But what does that mean? Will a weekly e-mail or reading a blog prejudice my successor’s work? What about a shared cup of coffee a couple of times a year with a staff member? Can I attend the wedding of a board member? When a distraught teen calls late at night, how do I respond? An officer friend spoke of a strained relationship with her successor, and said, “When Sharon called to tell me her mother was dying, I wanted to jump in the car and go to be with her, but was afraid it would cause friction with the other officer. I was forced to choose between abandoning a dear friend at a tragic time or offending my successor.” How can we make these changes work to glorify God? What might supplement the counsel of the O & R to ease the transition for the officers and the people of the corps? Here are a few possibilities: *Welcome conversation. Out of respect to the congregation, staff and board, conversations surrounding the process and the impact of the transition can be welcomed and facilitated. In some situations, it may be appropriate for headquarters staff to meet with the corps council and/or advisory board to provide background to the decision, and to discuss the strengths of the in-coming officers and the vision for future ministry. Such a discussion could also provide information about the differing styles of leadership among officers, and the role of the headquarters in resolving any difficulties the corps experiences during the transition. *Timing. Might it be possible to lengthen the time between the announcement of the move and the actual transfer date, as is done in the UK? With the extent of business and ministry arrangement to be made in some appointments as well as family concerns, five weeks may not be adequate preparation time for the practical issues of relocating, nor for the relational work that needs to be done in the transition. This was apparent to us in our most recent move, as our young adult sons, still living with us for economic reasons, had to find a place to live in a month’s time, quite a feat when their choice was to purchase a house. *A teaching opportunity. The transition itself can become a learning occasion for our people. Change happens, and at times it is out of our control. A job is lost, the house burns down, or the dog runs away. We can model ways of approaching change with grace, even if it is unexpected and/or unwelcome. *Praying our good-byes. When we left our last corps appointment, we shared an evening with soldiers and staff that focused on praying our good-byes, taking its outline from the book by the same name by Catholic nun Joyce Rupp. Our goal was to talk honestly about loss and departure, and to provide some tools for facing loss. *Interaction. The incoming officers can be invited to have some interaction with staff, soldiers and board prior to their arrival. In one appointment, because of proximity, we were able to attend a board meeting prior to our arrival, and the out-going officer graciously introduced us to the people we would be working with. *Transfer of spiritual leadership. Might there be value in a public transfer of the mantle, a handing over of the key? When Moses gave the leadership of the people of Israel to Joshua, the public blessing of his successor is a powerful scene (Dt. 31-33). Our tradition provides for a public farewell and then a public welcome, but not a Moses/Joshua coming together. *Positive comment. In an attempt to speak positively of both predecessor and successor, wise counsel suggests the following comment: The Shades are close friends of ours, and we very much appreciate the ministry they had here, and intend to build on their work (or look forward to how they will bring their gifts to this corps). *Take your time. Unless there are serious difficulties, most changes can wait a few months before being made. Listen for the dreams of the people of the corps. Get to know them. Hear their stories. You may find out that the painting in the back of the chapel that you think is rather ugly and would like to trash was the final work of a beloved retired YPSM who died tragically. Aren’t you glad you listened? *Choose mercy. When a grieving family would like the former officer to participate in the funeral for their matriarch, be gracious. It’s not about whether they like you – it’s about their grief, and their desire to have the comfort of one who knows them and who knew the deceased. *Remember the children. The children of the officer, as well as those of the congregation, are struggling with the move as well. A few weeks after our arrival at our current appointment, we invited the corps family to our quarters for a Sunday night vespers service. Five year old Zoe wanted to go upstairs so she could play with Lizzie and Rachael (the children of the previous officers). She was missing her friends, and didn’t quite understand that they didn’t live here anymore. If officer children have remained in town, welcome them at the corps, and be understanding if they choose to find another church. Keep them on the mailing list – don’t forget them. *Give it time. Allow for grieving. People are sad when they have to say good-bye to someone they love. In time, they will form close relationships with you, and each of you will be beloved. *Search your heart. When the transition is difficult, consider, is jealousy or envy at work? If you’re not sure, check out your reactions with an uninvolved friend. Maybe you are overly sensitive, and need to seek repentance, but perhaps there are some bizarre things going on. *Seek the oil of the Holy Spirit. At a recent officers’ retreat, Major Mark Tillsley reminded us that oil is used to symbolize the relational healing of the Holy Spirit, even among officers. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard . . . (Psalm 133:1-2). This oil can be offered by a caring mediator or divisional leader, who desires to see fractured relationships between officers healed. Regardless of orders and regulations, congregational preparation, and administrative oversight, a healthy transition depends upon the health and holiness of the officers involved. When envy and jealousy rule, the transition will be awkward at best and devastating to our people at worst. When a spirit of honesty, generosity and mercy pervades the relationships, God will be honored and our people will flourish. *Choose gratitude. Years before I was born, Elizabeth and Frederick Elliot prepared a foundation in Ashland, Ohio that stands to this day, both on the corner of Third and Center, and in the heart of this corps [and now at the wonderful new Kroc Center. Many came before them, and others followed, ready to serve God in their own unique way. I’m grateful for their faithfulness, and for the God who continues to be faithful through the changing days. Perhaps a note of thanks to one or two of those faithful officers would provide just the encouragement they need for another day of ministry. I (Paul) planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. . . The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. I Cor. 3:5, 8-9

Monday, April 30, 2012

Graduation Day

Pushing my baby brother in the stroller, my mother and I walked downtown each month to pay the bills. We’d go to the electric company first, and then cross the bridge over the Erie Canal to the phone company, where an employee took our money – cash – and stamped our receipt “paid.” On our way back home, we’d stop at the little hut by the side of the bridge to say hello to my grandfather, whose job was to raise and lower the bascule bridge (French for see-saw) when a large boat came through. My paternal grandfather was a streetcar conductor in his early days. My Aunt Annamae, widowed when her children were still young, “took in” laundry to make ends meet, while my Aunt Florence painstakingly “did the books” for Temple Beth Zion, writing out columns of figures in the large ledger. Now, the Bascule Bridge is long gone, replaced by a sleeker span that eliminated the need for a bridge-keeper. The streetcar tracks are paved over to make driving more convenient for the family car. I don’t think I’ve ever ironed sheets and pillowcases, grateful for wash-and-wear fabrics. And magic formulas in our computers have relegated those giant ledger books to the annals of history. If Madelyn and I went for a walk to pay the bills in today’s world, we’d be out of luck, for the cashier at the utility company has disappeared just like the bridge-keeper and the streetcar conductor. Yes, I’ll admit that it’s a pet peeve of mine to pay an additional fee at the convenience store to pay the bill in cash, and with online bill payment picking up steam, “the check is in the mail” may soon be impossible as well. And don’t even get me started about reaching a customer service representative on the phone. A switchboard operator is a relic of the past. How soon will the ATM’s replace the bank teller for good? And if we ultimately become a cashless society, the ATM itself will soon become history – along with those employed by the US Mint, the armored truck carriers, and the Salvation Army kettle bell-ringer, collecting dimes and quarters for the needy. With the demise of so many of these positions, what will be the jobs of the future? As our youngest son prepares to graduate from Ashland University this week, the question becomes more than an exercise in “what if.” Saddled with thousands of dollars in debt, he and his classmates face an uncertain future, unsure what the job market will look like in one, five, or ten years. Did he gain enough of the right skills to keep up with the changing work environment? One government report indicates that by 2020, only 3 of the 30 occupations with the largest projected job openings will require a college degree – teachers, college professors, and accountants. Maybe Dan should have gone to barber school – people will always need haircuts. So I do tip my hat to Dan and his fellow graduates as they process into a world that is changing at a more rapid pace than ever before. They’ll need to be flexible and innovative, willing to learn and grow long past their years on campus. They may need to work in service industry positions to pay the bills, putting their dreams on hold or part-time status for the time being. I wish I could promise them that hard work will result in success, and that good things come to those who wait, but in this expanding global economy there are no guarantees. With 1 out of 2 recent college graduates either unemployed or underemployed, their prospects are challenging, to say the least. Yet on Saturday, they’ll put their worries aside as they don the ageless mortar board and gown signifying graduation. As family and friends, we’ll fill the bleachers to celebrate this final rite of passage for our kids. Smiles, laughter, and tears will greet them as the strains of Pomp and Circumstance fill the air, and at least for one day, their fears for the future will be overshadowed by the joy of their accomplishments. Congratulations, AU class of 2012! God be with you.
I don’t drink or dance or chew, or run around with girls that do. This catch phrase, along with the interchangeable “smoke” or “cuss,” was descriptive of a strict religious up-bringing well into the 20th century. Given that heritage, it’s possible that there were some great-grandparents who were, as the saying goes, “rolling over in their graves” on Saturday as up to two hundred Ashland area residents “danced their shoes off” in celebration of Easter. For those who may have stumbled upon the dancers in the Walmart parking lot and wondered what was going on, this was an opportunity for people of faith to rise up and witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus through dance. The intention was that people of all ages could participate, with rehearsals scattered throughout the area over the last month. Walmart was chosen as one location (with the great support of manager Ann Molnar), hoping for a ‘flash mob’ type of expression. The encore performance at Community Stadium was an opportunity to not only dance, but to distribute shoes (the dance your shoes off part) to people who needed them. When I first saw the video from a Texas church that was sweeping the Internet last year, I hoped that we could figure out a way to do this in Ashland. My intention was to learn the dance and participate, but it just didn’t happen. I struggle to dance in a way that doesn’t leave me a beat behind the rest of the group – even when attempting the Electric Slide or the Chicken Dance. Give me a piano keyboard and the music flows through my fingers, but somehow it doesn’t make it to my feet – must be a short-circuit somewhere along the line. Fortunately, that doesn’t appear to be a genetic trait I’ve passed on, as Madelyn Simone loves to dance along to whatever music she hears. Over the years, I’ve been at a few wedding receptions where the DJ puts on some classic polka music and the aunties dance up a storm. I’d love to join them, but it simply won’t work. Same scenario at the Kroc Center Big Band dances. Since polka and ballroom dancing lessons haven’t made my top ten bucket list, I’m content to be a voyeur as others glide across the floor. I suppose that dancing got on the not-allowed list of behaviors not so much because it was considered sinful in itself, but because of what it could lead to. It was better, so the wisdom of that day suggested, to avoid taking one step down a path that could lead to trouble, than trusting oneself to have the self-discipline to avoid the pitfalls sure to await those wandering feet. In most cases, the pendulum has swung away from extreme behavioral definitions of faith and morality, although too late for those who sat home the night of the prom. Yet as stringent as some of the rules of that time were, rules give structure to our lives. Take, for example, the “don’t touch the stove” rule. For Madelyn at age two, that rule is important, for if she puts her hand on a hot stovetop she will be burned. But over time we will teach her to use the stove responsibly so that she can make her own ramen noodles for lunch. Yum. So what rules for living do we choose? A quick Google search identified 1.6 million websites that give suggestions, such as the12 essential rules to live more like a Zen monk, summed up with Thich Nhat Hanh’s “smile, breathe and go slowly.” Another website suggests 45 rules, but that seems to be too many to remember. I do really like number 38, however: “All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.” One book, Dance First, Think Later: 618 Rules to Live By, does make me nervous, because that’s the issue our grandparents had with dancing in the first place – all those hormones on the dance floor threaten to short-circuit the brain. Is it too simplistic to think that the “love God, love others” standard is where we need to start?

Friday, April 06, 2012

Good Friday

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.” Thus begins the account of the resurrection of Jesus as recorded by Luke in chapter 24. Among those women, Luke tells us, was a woman named Joanna, the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household (Lu. 8:3).

How excited I was as a young girl to discover that my name (or at least one quite close to it) was in the Bible. I knew there were a few Mary’s, and I was familiar with the matriarchs of the Old Testament: Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel. But there it was in the book of Luke, my name, a disciple of Jesus, one of a number of women who helped to support Jesus and the Twelve (disciples) from out of their own means – their own purses.

I imagined what it was like to be Joanna, putting myself in the stories, seeing those who were healed and witnessing to my own healing. As she gathered at the cross as he died, “standing at a distance, watching these things,” did she wail of her loss or did the tears silently slip down her cheeks? Was there much conversation as the women met to prepare the spices for Jesus’ body? In her grief, did Joanna possibly remember that Jesus had told the Twelve that he would rise again on the third day? And what did Joanna think and feel when she heard the angels: Remember. He told you this. “He is not here, he has risen!”?

What strikes me as I read the account from Sunday to Sunday is the wide spectrum of emotions that Joanna and her companions must have experienced over the course of that week. Mad, glad, sad, scared – they’re all present in the last days of Christ. Peter Giersch explains it as a “week full of emotional highs and lows and the reconciliation of many terrible contradictions.”

Like Joanna, we too walk through days of emotional highs and lows, of celebration and loss. Yes, over time we find that the cheers and tears of March Madness pale in comparison to the joy we feel in the birth of new life or our sorrow at saying good-bye to one we love. We mourn deeply, and we wonder how we will go on living. Yet as Paul reminds us, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (I Thess. 4:13).

Unlike Joanna, we have the benefit of knowing how the over-arching story ends, and we can choose to remember that ending. As bizarre as it seems, Good Friday truly is good because of the resurrection that is ahead. Eastern University professor Tony Campolo tells of a sermon his pastor preached. “It was Friday, and my Jesus is dead on a tree. But that’s Friday, and Sunday’s coming.” For Joanna, and for us, Friday is here. But Sunday’s coming. Alleluia!

Monday, March 12, 2012

A dozen years ago, our Salvation Army center in Canton challenged the neighboring radio station to a charity basketball game, and I made the mistake of wearing my sneakers that afternoon. We had to have a woman on the court at all times, and our female players were dropping like flies. Incredibly, my number got called, and I played about 2 minutes of basketball that seemed like an eternity. How was it that the rest of the players were able to run up and down the court? I was huffing and puffing within thirty seconds. It was not a pretty sight.

I thought of that rather forgettable game as I watched the Ashland University women’s basketball team at Kates Gymnasium this past weekend. As the kids say, OMG (oh my gosh). I’ve been a sports fan forever, but I’ve never attended a college level women’s basketball game before.

Shame on me, but I had the subconscious preconception that this would resemble phys ed class in junior high, the times when we still wore Keds and maroon gymsuits with the little skirts. Boy, was I mistaken. This was basketball at its purest level. The tempo was fast and furious, and the AU women have taken a page out of Cleveland Cavalier Anderson Varejao’s playbook, diving after loose balls with total disregard for their nails – or knees.

As I was gushing about the incredible performance I had seen and the very high free throw percentage of the players, one of the male members of my family was quick to tell me that the basketball they use is smaller than in men’s basketball, and therefore it’s easier to shoot free throws. Well, he may have a point, but I’d love for the team to challenge him to a game of HORSE, smaller basketball or not. The AU team has shot nearly 82% of their free throws this year, leading the country – that’s right, the whole US of A. LeBron himself has a career free throw average of .746. Enough said.

One of my young women friends is growing rapidly, currently about 5’8” at age 13. I wish I had been able to take her to the game, because I want her to see these amazing young women. I remember the tall girls of my early teen years, embarrassed because they towered above most of the boys in our grade. They’d wear flats, slouching into the classroom and sitting down as quickly as they could. If the AU women’s team is any indication, today’s young women stand proudly, even in heels, even beyond the 6’ mark.

While my generation, coming of age in the 70’s, was the first to achieve certain accomplishments as women, this generation has fully grown into themselves. If these AU women are any indication, they’ve navigated the choppy waters of adolescence and emerged as confident, focused young women. We were trying to sort things out, living with a bravado that was only skin-deep at times, while they’re claiming the world – and the basketball court – with grace and finesse. I’m impressed. And it’s happening right under our noses, here in our community.

This is our university, Ashland. Women’s basketball, with their 27-game winning streak, ranked #4 in the country. Athletes headed for the Olympic trials. They’ve got an award-winning newspaper (with website) and a brand-new television station on channel 20. And art, music, and drama of exceptional quality, right here where we live.

Yet did you know that in the midst of the challenges of college life, these students are giving back to our community? As just one example, the women’s soccer team arrives at the Salvation Army Kroc Center bright and early on Saturday mornings, running up and down the field with our fledgling soccer stars and drilling them in the fundamentals of their beloved sport. What a difference that’s made to the kids in our program.

It’s our turn to show our support to the students of the university as Ashland’s own piece of March Madness comes to town. It starts Friday night at Kates, as AU takes on Maryville. Can Coach Sue Ramsey and her players make it 28 in a row? You better believe it. Go Eagles!

note: we're ready for 30 in a row after a tough battle on Saturday - in the sweet sixteen with a game tonight at Kates!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Notes for Christ-Seekers December 10

Let not our hearts be busy inns,
That have no room for Thee,
But cradles for the living Christ
And His nativity.

Still driven by a thousand cares
The pilgrims come and go;
The hurried caravans press on;
The inns are crowded so!

Oh, lest we starve, and lest we die
In our stupidity,
Come, Holy Child, within and share
Our hospitality.

Ralph Spaulding Cushman

“Because there was no room for them in the inn.” A crowded city, all the lodging filled, no room for Jesus. The image, as Cushman points out, speaks to the one who is too busy, whose heart is too crowded to believe.
Yet it speaks as well to the believers, to those who say, “Yes, Lord Jesus, come into my heart,” yet find that heart over time crowded with the cares of this world, with the busyness of a life of faith, and yes, with way too many messages in our in-boxes.
I made a feeble attempt at creating a flannelgraph presentation many years ago that was based on a short story, My Heart, Christ’s Home. The story-teller invited Christ into his home (his heart), and moved from room to room as they explored together what that act of faith meant in the experience of the day-to-day. At one point, Jesus tells the narrator that he’d been waiting for him every morning in the with-drawing room, but that he’d been lonely, as the narrator didn’t appear. To paraphrase, Jesus reminded the young man that the time together mattered to Jesus just as much as it mattered to his own spiritual journey.
Have you any room for Jesus?

Friday, December 09, 2011

Advent Prayers for Christ-Seekers December 9

Morning Star

Morning Star, O cheering sight!
Ere Thou cam’st, how dark the night!
Jesus mine, in me shine,
Fill my heart with light divine.

Morning Star, thy glory bright
Far excels the sun’s clear light,
Jesus be, constantly,
More than thousand suns to me.

From a Moravian Hymn
Johannes Scheffler, 1657

When living in Philadelphia, we were privileged to journey to Bethlehem (Pennsylvania, not Judea) to attend a traditional Christmas observance known as the Moravian Love Feast. Surrounded by the soft glow of the beeswax candles, we sang of the herald angels, the shepherds watching o’er their flocks by night, and the child in a manger. Coffee and sweet rolls were shared during the service, an expression of the love feast marked within the Moravian Church.
It is from this tradition that we pray the prayer of the morning star. “Jesus mine, in me shine, Jesus be, constantly, more than thousand suns to me.’ Jesus said, “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). The morning star proclaims that the night has ended, that new light has come.
It is no coincidence that within the Moravian tradition, this carol-prayer a responsive one, led by children as Isaiah 11 promises. “A little child shall lead them.” So we pray today the child-like, profound words as the light of the Morning Star shines upon us: Jesus mine, in me shine.”

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Advent Prayers for Christ-Seekers December 8

O my God! make me worthy to understand something of the mystery of the burning charity which is in You, which impelled you to effect the sublime act of the Incarnation!
which brings to man, with the outpouring of love, the assurance of salvation.
How ineffable is this charity!
Truly there is no greater than this, that the Word was made flesh in order to make me like unto God!
You became nothing in order to make me something;
You clothed Yourself like the lowliest slave
to give me the garments of a King and a God!
Although You took the form of a slave,
You did not lessen Your substance, nor injure Your divinity,
but the depths of Your humility
pierce my heart and make me cry out:
O incomprehensible One, made comprehensible because of me!
O uncreated One, now created!
O Thou who art inaccessible to mind and body,
become palpable to thought and touch, by a prodigy of Thy power!

St. Angela of Foligno

St. Angela’s prayer focuses on the mystery, the amazing gift of the incarnation. The Almighty God a baby. Most of us have heard the story so many times that we don’t stop to think of the magnitude of that act, so Angela does it for us. At first reading, I was put off a bit by the language she used. It seemed extreme, excessive, but as I sat with her prayer a bit, it struck me – the incarnation was extreme, it was excessive. As John reminds us (1 John 3), this was love lavished upon us.

After all, God could have been satisfied with the angel messengers, with the prophets and their attention-grabbing actions. He could have kept on with the temple sacrifices and the details of the law. But instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love (as Peterson reminds us), God sent his Son. “For unto us a child is born.” For us. For me. For you.